A barrier-free society

An elderly woman boards the bus with relative ease. A good-natured banter then ensued between the bus captain and the elderly woman herself as the journey continues. Visibly delighted, she spoke of her hearty lunch at a food centre nearby. Strangely enough, she was also offering words of encouragement to the captain who is beginning to look a little familiar. Some serious mulling later and it hit me; the driver who appeared on the news for the wrong reason a week ago is now behind the wheel of our bus. Towards the end of the journey, I had the privilege to witness a particularly heartening moment as the elderly lady presented the gratified driver with a token of encouragement.

Emotions aside, I have also come to realize that our accessible environment has given the elderly woman the independence to integrate with the wider community and lead an active live. On the bus, low floor, step-free and access ramp features provide accessibility to the elderly and handicapped persons. Over the past few years, public transport operators such as Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT) and Singapore Bus Service (SBS) have been introducing these senior-friendly buses into the roads while Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations have undergone retrofitting regimes to improve accessibility to the elderly.

Architecture-wise, an implemented mandatory code ensured that all buildings constructed after 1990 are equipped with barrier-free features. Developers and architects have also been strongly urged to adopt the concept of “universal design” (design for all people) to benefit all users in the society. On the roads, enhancements like higher reflectivity street signs, thicker road crossing lines and vibrating push button on traffic posts aid the elderly road motorists and visually-impaired pedestrians. The addition of ramps and the removal of potential obstacles on walkways also improve inter-connectivity between places for the elderly and handicapped persons .

A barrier-free society is an essential complement to ageing-in-place. An accessible elderly-friendly environment provides the seniors not only with a conducive surrounding to age in place, but also the independence to resume their community and private activities just like any other person. We may be on the right track of progress but much more remains to be done to mitigate the inter-connectivity issues between new establishments and existing buildings. In order to achieve a society with complete barrier-free accessibility, the Committee on Ageing Issues (CAI) stressed the importance of a coordinating committee so as to steer public-private-people efforts towards an impediment-free development.

Next week marks the final week of 2011. We will explore the remaining 2 strategies for ageing issues and close the curtains for the year with a conclusion on the way forward for Singapore.

(Source: Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports: Committee on Ageing Issues)

(Image source: Ministry of Transport)

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